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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - South Korea

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - South Korea, February 1998, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The election of long-time human rights campaigner and former political prisoner Kim Dae Jung as president in December should bode well for the continued protection of South Korea's press, which already enjoys considerable freedom. Kim – an outspoken advocate of free expression who was once under sentence of death by a previous military government – seems fully committed to broadening the democracy South Korea has developed since military rule ended in 1987. Shortly after his election, Kim blamed much of the Asian economic crisis on authoritarian governments that "lie" to their people. "Many of the leaders of Asian society have been saying that military dictatorship was the way and democracy was not good for their nations," Kim said in an interview with The Washington Post. "I believe that the fundamental cause of the financial crisis, including here in Korea, is because of placing economic development ahead of democracy."

Yet traces of South Korea's authoritarian past are evident. On December 19, just one day after the presidential election, American radio reporter Richard Choi was arrested on criminal defamation charges stemming from a report he filed from Seoul that was broadcast only in the United States. Ironically, it was the Korea Times/Hankook Ilbo that pressured prosecutors to jail the reporter. Choi had reported on rumored financial problems at the company. CPJ campaigned vigorously for Choi's release.

Observers in Korea fear that Choi's prosecution, under an old law prohibiting rumor-mongering against corporations, may foreshadow a tougher climate for the media in the face of the worst economic crisis to hit the country in a generation.

Because a formal state of war still exists between North and South Korea, a tough national security law which punishes those who "praise" or "benefit" the north remains on the books and is a potential threat to journalists.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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